'The days of second-class citizenship are over' - Sinn Fein's Kearney adamant on 50th anniversary of civil rights march
Sinn Fein Chairperson Declan Kearney has said that civil rights for people living in Northern Ireland can no longer be put on hold.
The South Antrim MLA was speaking at an event in the O'Neill Arms Country House Hotel, Toome, to mark the 50th anniversary of the People's Democracy March from Belfast to Londonderry.
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The march attracted worldwide attention when protesters came under attack from loyalists at Burntollet Bridge outside outside Derry.
It was a defining moment in the Northern Ireland civil rights movement.
Speaking at the event, the Sinn Fein chair called for action to implement language rights, address legacy issues and introduce equal marriage and women's health rights.
Mr Kearney compared the opposition to the civil rights movement, to a "push-back" on the Good Friday Agreement from "significant sections of political unionism".
"It is a scandal fifty years after political extremists beat Civil Rights marchers from Belfast to Derry off the roads in opposition to a rights-based society, that a new generation of political unionists continue to oppose the development of a rights-based society and proper power sharing," Mr Kearney said.
"Make no mistake, there is a deep systemic crisis in the north of Ireland.
"It is a crisis caused and perpetuated by a denial of democratic rights and failure to implement the Good Friday Agreement."
The South Antrim MLA said that Brexit had brought the problems in Northern Ireland under the spotlight.
"A solution to the depth of this crisis will only be found through negotiation and decisive political leadership, which commands the authority to make and keep agreements, and embrace and deliver change," Mr Kearney said.
"Bellicose, sabre rattling new year statements are no substitute for what is required of real leaders.
"We need progressive and democratic alliances to defend the GFA; to stand up against the scourge of Brexit; to achieve a Bill of Rights; and, to secure the fundamental language, legacy, marriage, and women's health rights which are enjoyed elsewhere in Ireland and Britain."
Mr Kearney said that "citizens' rights can no longer be put on hold" and warned that "the days of second class citizenship are over."
The Sinn Fein chair said that there would be no return to the status quo.
"The post civil rights generations will never again be pushed to the back of the bus.
"As we look forward towards 2019, we do so with optimism and an unchanged commitment to build a future based upon rights, respect and reconciliation for all our people.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital